Hunting the Rut: How to Take a Buck During the 'Pickup Breeding' Phase

Photograph by Lance Krueger

Regional Pickup Breeding Dates
When can you expect to see bucks start ­cruising? Our Rut Reporters researched fetal-­aging, fawn-drop, and other data to determine a range of dates when each rut phase is most apt to be active in seven regions.

✖ Northeast: Nov. 21–28
✖ North-Central: Nov. 21–28
✖ Great Plains: Nov. 21–28
✖ West: Nov. 25–Dec. 2
✖ Mid-South: Nov. 26–Dec. 3
✖ South-Central: Dec. 3–10
✖ South: Dec. 9–16

Trophy Tactic: Wait Along the Water
The Action: With some of the most frenzied action weeks behind you, it's easy to feel deflated now and just give up. Don't do it, because the pickup-breeding phase may be the very best time of the year to target and tag a true giant. While lesser bucks are exhausted from running, and tired of getting their clocks cleaned, the big guys are getting a second wind and scouring the woods for a relative handful of unbred does.

The Hot Zone: It’s time to think beyond the confines of your hunting property. Your goal is to find a macro funnel. Bust out a topo map, aerial photo, or satellite image of a large area surrounding your ground. First, circle the major food sources and potential bedding areas on your area and beyond. Then identify major travel arteries connecting them; think waterways, fencelines, hedgerows, and ridge systems. With mature bucks traveling big, they are bound to move through these macro funnels.

The Hunt Plan: One of the best macro funnels is a wooded riverbottom, especially one fed by other creeks. Not only does this make a perfect travel artery for cruising bucks; it also provides bedding, browse, and water for other deer. It’s like a highway connecting every motel and restaurant in an area. Hang a stand in a multitrunked tree and bring entertainment, such as a book or smartphone. You’ll probably have to wait a while for your buck, but when he shows, he’ll be a stud.

Tip: If the creek is shallow, approaching along its course mitigates your scent trail, and the banks often hide your silhouette. If the waterway is navigable, use a canoe or johnboat to get to your stand (and get your buck out).

Any-Buck Tactic: Seek Hidden Foods
While the big boys are still seeking mates, other bucks, including some good ones, are switching their focus to staying alive. Most gun seasons are open now, and that influx of hunters is making bucks extra wary. But even freaked-out deer have to eat; so your job is to find a good, hidden food source. Does—avoiding large feeding areas to dodge harassment from bucks—seek secluded groceries now, too, and may pull in additional bucks.

If you’ve planted hidey-hole food plots near thick cover, this is the time to hunt them. Otherwise, look for hidden foods such as acorns, soft mast, or small cuts overgrown with browse. Slip in around noon, do some quick scouting, and set up as quietly as possible, as deer may be bedded nearby.

Tip: Be extra careful about calling and rattling now. Even a good-looking 2- or 3-year-old buck may be tired of fighting at this stage. If you need to get a buck’s attention, try a bleat call first.